A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar
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We arrived safely in Madagascar late Tuesday night, August 14. It is good to be back in our home, even though we miss family! Dan spent the next day at the national quarantine greenhouse with his colleagues potting up the over 500 trees we brought in our luggage.
On Thursday, we drove 10 hours to Toamasina on the east coast to participate in the celebration of FJKM’s 50th anniversary and the 200th anniversary of the first missionaries’ arrival in Madagascar. PC(USA) Africa Area Coordinator Debbie Braaksma and Regional Liaison Doug Tilton also attended the festivities.
The First Missionaries
The London Missionary Society sent David Jones and Thomas Bevan from Wales as the first missionaries to Madagascar. They came by boat, initially leaving their families in Mauritius. They arrived near Toamasina on August 18, 1818. Within a month of their arrival, they started a school. After a little bit, they returned to Mauritius to fetch their wives and children. Each family had a young child. Within six months of the first arrival, all but David Jones had died, most likely from malaria. David Jones carried on, moving the focus of the mission to central Madagascar where he founded over 30 schools and, along with fellow Welsh missionary David Griffiths, translated the Bible into Malagasy. Appropriately, most of the celebrations in Toamasina were at the school named after Jones, the David Jones FJKM School.
History of the FJKM
The Fiangonan’i Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara (FJKM) was formed by the union of the denominations that emerged from the mission efforts of three mission agencies: the London Missionary Society, the Mission Protestante Française, and the Friends Foreign Mission Association (British Quakers). Around the time of independence from France in 1960, three independent Malagasy denominations developed, one from each of the original church traditions. In Toamasina at the first Synoda Lehibe (General Assembly) meeting, these three denominations officially came together on August 18, 1968 to form the FJKM. Today, the FJKM is the largest protestant denomination in Madagascar.
The weeklong celebration in Toamasina culminated in a three-day weekend, August 17–19. There was a worship service each day, a soccer game, a concert, a four-pronged procession through the city on the morning of August 18, an evangelism campaign on the beach, and an excursion outside Toamasina to see where the first missionaries came ashore in Madagascar. Over 50 stands prepared by church entities describing their activities were on display at the David Jones FJKM School, as well as historical displays from the FJKM archives. The theme for the year-long celebration is II Timothy 1:8a, “Don’t be ashamed to be a witness for our Lord.” The president of the country attended the worship service on Saturday. We heard a lot of good singing, sermons, and speeches. One church leader reminded attendees that a jubilee celebration is a time for repentance, a time to get right with God in preparation for going forward.
Many partners sent representatives to take part in the joyful occasion. Rev. Debbie Braaksma brought greetings from PC(USA) while Rev. Perline Cooper shared greetings from the Madagascar Mission Network.
In the FJKM tradition, major celebrations are commemorated in practical and concrete ways. For this celebration, the FJKM is constructing two commemorative buildings: a two-story classroom building for the David Jones School that was dedicated on August 18 in Toamasina, and a 50-meters-long four-story building on the grounds of the Ivato seminary that will be dedicated October 20 at the festivities to close out this year of celebration. The two-story building contains many classrooms to help the FJKM educate more pastors to serve the growing church. At this time, the FJKM has about 1,500 pastors for roughly 6,000 congregations.
Another commemoration was the translation of the book “Hanes Madagascar,” or “History of Madagascar,” published in Welsh by early missionary David Griffiths in 1842. The church in Wales arranged for the book to be translated into English and Malagasy as part of the 200th anniversary celebration. Griffiths’ book chronicles the early history of Christianity in Madagascar, including the first part of the period of persecution (1835-1861) under Queen Ranavalon I when many Malagasy Christians were martyred for their faith. The Union of Welsh Independent Churches also sent representatives to the celebration in Toamasina. The Welsh churches hosted celebrations in Wales earlier in the year.
Another celebration highlight occurred when the FJKM President, Pastor Irako Andriamahazosoa Ammi, got tested in public for HIV at the free testing booth provided by FJKM’s National HIV/AIDS Committee. Free testing was available the whole week. President Ammi made radio announcements encouraging people to get tested during the celebration. Over 650 people were tested, including Committee Chair Pastor William Razafimahatratra and Debbie Braaksma. A page encouraging people to get tested with a photograph of President Ammi being tested has since been sent out to over 5,000 members of the FJKM attending regional meetings. The HIV testing rate in Madagascar is very low, and many Malagasy who are seropositive are unaware of their status. What a powerful example the president provided.
We left Toamasina Sunday afternoon to return to the capital Antananarivo, stopping to spend the night at Andasibe to avoid driving late. Andasibe is home to the last major fragment of natural forest along the road from Toamasina to the capital — quite a contrast to the extensive native forest that David Jones witnessed when he first walked to the capital in 1820.
Reflecting on the 200-year legacy of Christianity in Madagascar, it is inspiring to consider what was accomplished through the sacrifice of both foreign and Malagasy Christians. They overcame many challenges to spread the Gospel and bring a more abundant life to the Malagasy people. As the FJKM looks toward the next 50 years, the country and church continue to face many challenges, including the demise of natural ecosystems, upcoming elections, severe poverty, and the challenges of a growing church in need of more trained pastors and lay leaders. Thank you very much for supporting our ministries in Madagascar. Your continued partnership with us and the FJKM will help the FJKM as it seeks to serve God and address these challenges.
Dan & Elizabeth
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Tags: building, David Johns, Debbie Braaksma, history, HIV/AIDS, Irako Andriamahazosoa Ammi, missionaries, school, Thomas Bevan, Toamasina, Wales
Tags: Dan and Elizabeth Turk
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